In two previous blog posts (here and here), we explored 12 things to look for when visiting personalized learning environments. Knowing what to look for in the behaviors, words, and activities of learners can make the difference between seeing what seems to be a positive, engaging learning environment, and understanding the factors present that contribute to making the learning environment exceptional. Understanding these signals from a student-facing view is key to knowing whether personalized learning is truly present or not.
Today’s post will explore a more teacher-facing view. Specifically, what implications does a personalized learning environment have on instructional practices? Traditionally, a teacher’s job has been to know the standards and curriculum, decide on the pace, prepare lessons and teach these to the students in his or her classroom. The student’s job was to learn the material in the way it was presented by the teacher.
In a personalized learning environment, there is a fundamental shift to this relationship. Learner and teacher are repositioned and their relationship becomes interdependent. They now work together to ensure the standards are met and curriculum is learned, which has several implications for instruction.
Instruction has traditionally been viewed as the curriculum to be taught, the pace at which it will be taught and the way it will be presented – all determined by the teacher. The first shift involves looking at content, competencies and learning from the perspective of the learner. It requires educators to take a student-facing view when preparing their instruction. When making this shift, educators should keep the following in mind:
- Is the learner seeing the relevance and value of what they are about to learn?
- Are the competencies clear and compelling?
- What skills, strategies and other resources are necessary for the student to have success?
- Based on the information I have regarding the learner, what actions can I take to increase learning success?
- How are we going to measure outcomes?
This shift has educators moving from the expectation of learning on demand to delivering instruction on demand. In other words, it is not about “driving the curriculum bus” whether the student is ready to learn or not. Instead teachers should focus on the instruction that is needed to help move students to the next level. Questions to keep in mind for this shift include:
- How can I create flexibility in content, skill and knowledge development in order to meet the student’s readiness and desire to learn?
- What information do I need to have in order to understand what instruction is needed?
- What resources can I provide to support the student’s learning path?
- How do we ensure there is a balance between what the learner wants and is ready to learn and the standards that must be covered?
- What instruction will this student need to support the next stage of learning?
The third shift is about re-thinking the purpose of learning. Often we justify what is being taught by saying the student will need it in middle school, high school, college or some other far off time in the future. This shift has educators working to convey a current purpose for the learning in which the student is engaged. It is a shift from learning “just in case” to learning “just in time.” Considerations to keep in mind for this shift include:
- How clear is the purpose and utility of the content, skill or knowledge I am asking students to learn?
- How can I convey the purpose in ways that make sense to the learner?
- How can I help learners discover the purpose by engaging them in exploration, discussion or investigation?
- What applications of the learning will enrich the learner’s life, increase their power or move them closer to a goal?
- What will I do if I can’t convince the student of the purpose or value of the learning?
- What if I don’t see the purpose or value of the learning?
Historically the focus of learning and the assessment of learning have been on content accumulation and regurgitation. This fourth shift recognizes that learning is not just the accumulation of content; in fact, technology has made content readily available at our fingertips. Instead, educators should focus on helping students build their capacity to learn and understand new ideas and concepts. Asking themselves the following questions will help this shift:
- What foundational content do students need to support the next learning skill?
- How will the content the student is learning help them to be a more effective learner?
- How am I helping students to become more powerful learners?
- How will the growth of learning capacity be measured?
- How will I help students apply their growing learning capacity to the next learning challenge?
For decades our focus has been on ensuring students have access – to technology, tools, and resources. This final shift moves beyond that focus to helping students take advantage of access to ensure their success. To accomplish this shift, educators should consider:
- What opportunities and supports are necessary for learning success?
- Do learners have access to the opportunities and supports they need to achieve success?
- How will I know when learners are not on a success trajectory so that I can intervene early?
- What intervention strategies will I employ when learners come up against barriers to learning?
- What learning support resources are available to me to help struggling learners?
As you think about these shifts and begin to incorporate them into your classroom, what implications do you think they will have on your instructional practices?